Jane VaynmanBarack Obama on Nonproliferation

Nearly every newspaper and blog seems to be doing the “Obama may run for President” story. So, this is really like peer pressure.

Where does Barack Obama stand on some of those nonproliferation issues we all obsess about?

CTR & Nunn-Lugar – First of all, he is buddies with Lugar, which gets one serious brownie points in nonproliferation land. Maybe Lugar got lonely doing the nonpro without Nunn. Maybe titles like “Lugar-Lugar Act” just do not have the same ring. In any case, last August he took Obama with him to Russia and Ukraine to inspect nuclear, chemical, and conventional weapons facilities. Obama has made statements calling for greater urgency in securing weapons and material in Russia and developing a strategic vision for nonproliferation programs.

The Lugar-Obama bill (extending Nunn-Lugar program activities, detection and interdiction capabilities, second line of defense) was introduced in April 06.

North Korea -Obama thinks that we should try to make sanctions work, use the 6-party talks, but at some point engage in bilateral discussions.

“But I think that, in time, it would make sense for us to initiate some bilateral conversations in parallel with the six-party talks”… “partly because it would strengthen, I think, the commitment of China and South Korea to really put some pressure on North Korea.”

Iran – Obama told the Chicago Tribune in 2004 that he believes that the US is not in a good position to militarily strike Iran, but he does not rule out the option.

“The big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures, including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point are we going to, if any, are we going to take military action?” Obama asked.


“In light of the fact that we’re now in Iraq, with all the problems in terms of perceptions about America that have been created, us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in,” he said.

“On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran. … And I hope it doesn’t get to that point. But realistically, as I watch how this thing has evolved, I’d be surprised if Iran blinked at this point.”

India dealSeemed skeptical when Secretary Rice was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2006. From FT.com:

Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat, asked Ms Rice whether the fact that eight of India’s 22 nuclear plants would not fall under inspections, would allow India to transfer weapons grade nuclear materials to plants to produce more weapons. When Ms Rice responded that they already could build more weapons if they wanted, Mr Obama shot back: “If it doesn’t constrain them, why bother checking on the 14?” (original transcript here%)

And, on having a good sense of humor – Stephen Colbert was invited to speak at the Knox College graduation earlier this year. Obama sent him a really funny letter of congratulations, which included some important advice:

Second, use hand sanitizer after the Pumphandle. Lots of germs there. I cannot stress this enough.


  1. J (History)

    Obama demonstrated that he was something special with his very first hearing as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—the confirmation hearing for Condoleeza Rice. Even though he was the last Member to have an opportunity to ask questions, he chose to focus his limited time on pressing Rice on how the U.S. could do more on the “loose nukes” issue in the former Soviet Union. And he did it all with a fluency in the issues that did not require him to just read his staff-written talking points.

    An Obama Presidency will be good news for nonproliferation types—he understands the seriousness of these issues and has devoted attention to them in his first two years as Senator.